The Lego Movie (Mark Mothersbaugh)

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Who would have thought that an idea which seemed as crass and commercial as Battleship could have been such a joy? Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller took a basic concept and turned it into box office and critical gold with The Lego Movie, providing a heavy mix of rapid-fire gags, pop culture references, and genuine heart – so much so that the studio immediately greenlit a sequel, always a sign of success in franchise-happy Hollywood.

Lord and Miller brought along their regular musical collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh, who had scored their previous films Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street. Despite being an experienced scorer of TV, films, and video games since the 1980s, Mothersbaugh is still best-known for his role as the lead singer and co-founder of the new wave rock band Devo. The composer had taken on similar projects before, from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle to Rugrats, and he brought along his full set of acoustic and electronic sounds for the assignment.

Naturally, though, the piece of music everyone will remember–and quite possibly be unable to get out of their brains–is The Lego Movie‘s satirical ode to conformity and optimism, “Everything is Awesome.” Written by Shawn Patterson with a large team of collaborators and produced by Mothersbaugh, the song is insanely catchy pop brilliance: in satirizing bubbly upbeat cookie-cutter songs, the songwriters created one of the best yet. The album features no less than four versions of the tune: the opening (and best, though it could have done without the rap interludes) version by Tegan and Sara, a shorter version by Jo-Li, an acoustic version belted out by songwriter Patterson himself, and a karaoke rendition of the Tegan And Sara opener. Mothersbaugh incorporates the song into his underscore at several key points as well.

Outside of the song melody, the composer provides a theme of his own that’s first heard in counterpoint to “Everything is Awesome.” First appearing in full during the quirky “Emmet’s Morning,” the theme is thereafter heard in almost every cue, providing the musical thread that holds score and film together (much like the approach Mothersbaugh took in Cloudy). It’s catchy, and the theme is put through a dizzying variety of paces: from joyously anarchic spaghetti western in “Saloons and Wagons” to unmitigated tragedy in “Wyldstyle Leads” to dazzling triumph in “I Am A Master Builder.”

Mothersbaugh uses a few other brief motifs here and there: a menacing four-note electronic tag for the dastardly Lord Business and his men, a bouncy laughing vocal for Ben the Spaceman, and an ascending victory motif heard whenever things are going the heroes’ way. For the balance of the album, though, the composer writes in the David Newman vein of frenetic, tuneful mayhem, rolling with the film’s punches and nonstop sequence of gags. There’s surprising breadth there, though, as exemplified in the album’s most straightforwardly dramatic cue, the lovely “My Secret Weapon,” which blends light electronics with piano for the most touching moment in the film–and score.

One thing that’s worth noting for prospective listeners, is Mothersbaugh’s use of electronics, especially compared with his much more acoustic approach to the earlier Cloudy. He has a considerable orchestra at his disposal but blends it with synths in nearly every cue, adjusting them to be bubbly or harsh as demanded by the onscreen action. They are generally used deftly, but their sometimes-harsh quality, combined with the music’s mile-a-minute pace, can be off-putting. In general, listeners’ response to Mothersbaugh’s synths will color their appreciation of the whole album, and it will perhaps be a bigger hit with fans of electronic/acoustic mixes or those familiar with the composer’s many video game works.

Whether you come for the songs or the score, The Lego Movie offers an eclectic sound that’s sure to have something for everyone. Depending on your preferences, that could mean picking out a few choice cuts to download or relishing the whole of Watertower Music’s generous 60-minute album. Mothersbaugh definitely gave the film the score it needed, and it comes with a solid recommendation.

Rating: starstarstarstar

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